Monday, 24 April 2006

Brighton rocked

My trip to Brighton, and then Bournemouth, consisted of the following.
  • Drink, lots of; drugs, as if I'd do them!
  • Sex, lots of
  • Subway sandwiches
  • Shopping
  • Some more drink
  • Dancing, lots of
  • Sleeping, occasionally
  • Catching up with old friends, lots of
  • Some more dancing
  • Violence, involving some friends but not me, which descended into a Keystone Cops-style farce that was sorely lacking some Benny Hill music, but involved plenty of police disdain. Unnecessarily dramatic quote from Gary to the police: "...and there's blood!"
  • A cute dog
  • A big dog
  • Lots of boring driving
  • There may also have been a bit of flirting

Monday, 10 April 2006

total:spec: Editors

There’s always been friendly rivalry between bands, and the current crop of guitar groups that have, in the past couple of years, risen to dominate the charts are no different. Take Editors for example - four well-spoken and unassuming musicians who have taken the indie rock world by storm with their debut album The Back Room. These former music technology students might not seem like your average egotistical and competitive rock stars, but not even they can resist a little one-upmanship with fellow charts stars Hard-Fi.
“We’ve got this friendly battle with Hard-Fi,” says 24-year-old frontman Tom Smith. “They keep out-doing us by one every time. Their single always goes in just a little bit higher than ours, their album sells just a little bit more. They’ve been a little bit up on us, but we’ll Nigel Mansell-slipstream them next time.”
They may have to wait a little bit. Although Editors - also made up of lead guitarist Chris Urbanowicz, 24, bassist Russell Leetch, also 24, and drummer Ed Lay, 23 - complete their biggest tour yet at the end of May with a three night residency at London’s Brixton Academy, Hard-Fi will have beaten them to it just two weeks before with a five night residency at the same venue. This, according to Editors, is “typical bloody Hard-Fi”. But the band is undeterred, and there’s no reason they should be. For, despite Hard-Fi doing that bit better statistically, Editors are still one of the most successful and popular guitar bands to emerge during this current period of popularity for indie and rock music, a status which can only improve when they play some of the biggest venues in the UK this spring.
Many bands would get carried away with the kind of success Editors have had in the past year. Since The Back Room was released last July it has sold steadily to become a platinum-selling album, thanks to both the band’s constant touring and hit singles such as Munich and All Sparks. Munich officially made them a Top 10 chart act when it was released for the second time at the beginning of the year, but despite all this, Smith is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
“It was amazing to be in the Top 10,” says Smith. “But I’m not going to lie to you - the first week of January is a slow week for singles,” he laughs. “What was really amazing was the album went from being at 100-something to the Top 20. We deliberated greatly about the re-releasing of songs. A lot of musical purists don’t look on it favourably and I understand why, we all do. We’re all from that school of thinking. But the way the music industry is working is changing and it’s about exposure for the album. Since we re-released both Munich and Bullets we’ve sold thousands more albums, so it made those decisions worthwhile.”

This pragmatic attitude should stand the band in good stead as they build up to that ‘slipstreaming’ of Hard-Fi. Rather than revelling in being flavour of the moment, Editors are very much fixing their focus on the future and Smith is almost concerned that success has happened as fast as it has for the band. In an industry where bands and singers come and go faster than Pete Doherty in rehab, Smith and his band seem to be very much of the old school of working, where bands took more than one album to build up a fanbase and become household names.
“We have self-belief and we’re very proud of what we do,” says Smith. “We are very passionate about our music, but some bands have a level of... I’d say arrogance but I don’t mean it in a bad way because it goes hand in hand with lots of types of music where they profess to be the best band in the world and whatever. But that train of thought and way of conducting yourself in the press is not what we’re about. Everything that has happened to us in the last year has surprised us. I mean, we kind of feel we deserve it in an unassuming way, but as we move on to this tour, which is the biggest thing we’ve ever done, it’s exciting and I don’t know where it will end.
“We don’t desire to be the biggest band in the world. I mean I admit, it is a nice feeling playing to bigger crowds. But doing the stadium rock thing, it can be very hard and I wouldn’t want it to happen overnight. You suddenly get put into these massive spaces and you have to fill them with your, not just the music, but some kind of show. I don’t think any band is born to do that. You have to learn how to do that. But I’d like to think we’re moving forward.
“One of the biggest influences on me is REM and the way that they went from when no one was recognising them in the early 80s through to mid 90s when Automatic for the People came out. Over 15 years they became the biggest band in the world. It took them a while and they didn’t really lose any of their mystique or credibility because of how it happened. I don’t think it could happen over that period of time now. People want the next big thing a lot quicker than they did then. But if we can emulate that in anyway I’d be very happy.”
Editors are certainly taking things slowly in comparison to the prolific likes of their contemporaries Franz Ferdinand. Working at that band’s rate, Editors would be releasing a new album next month. But although it's not on the cards for a while, they have started working on the next album. Taking a much-needed break from their relentless touring schedule last Christmas, Smith, who is usually the one who starts writing the songs before he completes them with the rest of the band, took some time to work on new material.
“It was nice to start the creative process again,” says Smith. “The very first plans were thought up for album No 2 and the first ideas for songs were being talked about and played through. It was nice to be doing that because last year we spent the whole year touring, and the year before we were doing the songwriting. So it was nice getting back to doing what we were doing when we started.”
Editors actually began when the four met on a music technology course at the University of Stafford. All four harboured dreams of being in a band rather than pursuing the studio-based careers they’d started on with their degree course, and eventually they found each other and began to live that dream.
“We quickly realised the course wasn’t what we wanted to do,” recalls Smith. “But none of us wanted to start careers at that point so we just stayed there. We didn’t have anything else to do. But it was good because our music grew out of our friendship of that time.”
Ed was the last to join and after that they became Editors. Smith is vague about the origins of the name.
“We’ve had a few names in the past because we’ve been making music together for a while,” he says. “When we started we weren’t very good, obviously, and the names we’ve had have never really represented what we did or what we were about. We came across Editors and we just loved the way the word looked. It wasn’t about the meaning or what was behind the word. People have tried to read things into it but it isn’t any witty comment on any kind of journalists or journalism. It’s a word thing really. People go, ‘Why haven’t you got a The?’ and it’s not really about that. I think, with a lot of band names, after a while the true meaning of the word subsides. You say Elbow or Oasis and you don’t think of the literal meaning. We just like the way the word looked, and it sits snugly between Elbow and Echo & the Bunnymen in record shops, so that’s not a bad place to be,” he laughs.

Once they’d graduated the band moved to Birmingham, where they had acquired management. Throughout University and their time in Birmingham the four men lived together, and it’s only recently that one of them has left the nest, with Smith moving in with his girlfriend, Radio 1 DJ Edith Bowman.
“We know each other very well,” says Smith. “We kind of know when someone’s pissed off with the other person before they’ve even said it now, so you just give them space or whatever. There’s been a couple of times when people have snapped at each other over the last year but half an hour later it’s, what did we just argue about? Or, I’m sorry or whatever and you get on with it. It’s very important that, even when we’re just out together as friends, we have that gang mentality. There’s that kind of unsaid connection between the four of us.”
Once the band had moved to Birmingham, they had to take up day jobs to pay the rent, working on the music in the evening.
“Me and Russ worked in a call centre for a bank,” Smith remembers with a laugh. “We were there for over a year, which was an incredibly mind-numbing experience, as you can imagine. And Chris and Ed worked in a shoe shop in town, which was similarly a pretty banal job.”
Even back then indie sensibility overruled ambition in their way of working, and they ignored major label interest to sign to independent Newcastle label Kitchenware in 2004. In terms of today’s musical climate, Editors’ success has come gradually. Each single has done slightly better than the last and The Back Room has very much been what you’d call a slow-burner.
It is, however, very much a success, and with that comes a lot of pressure. First albums are always made in the comfort of a band’s own time and away from any scrutiny. Second albums are made in conditions that are the opposite of that and as such are where many bands fall down.
“Initially, working on new songs was a bit nerve-wracking,” admits Smith. “Before we started writing, towards the end of last year, everyone started saying we had to start working on songs for the second record. But we didn’t really have any time and nothing was coming together. Then I started feeling the pressure and people were saying, ‘Tom, you should really start thinking about it’. I was thinking about it all the time, I just didn’t have anything concrete that I could say we’d written. But once we started working on new ideas it felt really good. It was just nice to have ideas to be throwing around the room again. I’m excited about the second record. But when it comes out will depend on how well we do in the States.”
Ah yes, America. Editors have spent a bit of time out there this year, with good response. Hard-Fi has already beaten them to it in a way, having recently announced they are shifting their base to the US in order to concentrate on making it big there. Editors are typically more restrained in their method.
“In a way spending a bit of time in the States will be good because, if we do do well, then our second record will line up in both the UK and America. It will be nice to have them come out at the same time. I imagine it would be strange promoting a second record in the UK and then going to the States and pretending you haven’t written the second album yet. But obviously we’re not going to take our eye off the UK. If things have to go back into next year we’ll keep popping back now and then to show our faces. But, no, I’m excited about America. Of course I want us to do well there. I also want the second record to surprise people and be a step on in lots of ways. So I don’t mind if it has to get pushed back into the year - when it’s ready, it’s ready.”